With COVID-19 constantly in the back of our minds, many of us find ourselves quarantining in the safety of our own homes. But, in focusing on external threats to our health, it's easy to overlook sneaky domestic threats, such as radon, a cancer-causing radioactive gas that can occur in confined areas such as basements, attics, and small rooms.
So why should you care about radon? You cannot see or smell it. Yet, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, it is estimated to cause 21,000 lung cancer deaths in the U.S. annually. Luckily, scientists say that exposure to radon can be limited.
How Is Radon Formed?
According to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, radon is formed naturally when radioactive metals, such as uranium, thorium or radium, decompose in rocks, soil, and groundwater.
Radon Is Everywhere
Radon is found all over the U.S. It is present in buildings, homes, offices, and schools. Radon moves up through the ground to the air above and creeps into buildings through cracks in floors, walls, and foundations. The EPA states that radon can also be released from building materials or well water. In addition, radon breaks down quickly while giving off radioactive particles.
Effects of Radon on Human Health
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, long-term exposure to radon can cause the radioactive particles to become trapped in your lungs when you breathe. A build-up of radioactive particles may lead to lung tissue damage and, eventually, to lung cancer itself. Smoking combined with radon exposure poses especially serious health risks.
Your chances of getting lung cancer from radon depend on how much radon is in your home, the amount of time you spend in your home, and whether you are smoker or have ever smoked.
Staying Safe in Our Homes
The amount of time we spend in our homes has increased significantly due to COVID-19. In fact, according to the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research, about 42 percent of the U.S. labor force are now working from home full-time, which would naturally increase exposure to radon if it were present. And testing for radon is the only way to know if it's present in your home, and if you and your family are at risk.
The good news is that testing can be inexpensive ($10-20) and easy. Former U.S. Surgeon General Richard H. Carmona said that radon is completely preventable and can be detected with a simple test and fixed through well-established venting techniques.
According to the EPA, one in every 15 homes nationwide have a high radon level at or above the recommended radon action level of 4 picoCuries (pCi/L) per liter of air. Simple test kits, widely available at hardware stores or through online vendors, can reveal the amount of radon in any building.
The bottom line is that a radon problem can fixed. Even very high levels of radon can be reduced to acceptable levels. To be safe, get your home tested to ensure that you are not at risk of exposure to radon.